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Nana (1926)

Not Rated | | Drama, Romance | 25 June 1926 (France)
When the vivacious and beautiful Nana bombs at the Théâtre des Variétés, she embarks on the life of a courtesan, using her allure and charisma to entice and pleasure men.



(scenario), (inspired by the novel by) | 1 more credit »

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Pierre Lestringuez ...
Bordenave (as Pierre Philippe)
Jacqueline Forzane ...
La Comtesse Sabine Muffat
Le Comte Muffat
Le Comte de Vandeuvres
Raymond Guérin-Catelain ...
Georges Hugon (as R. Guérin Catelain)
Fauchery (as Claude Moore)
Pierre Champagne ...
Hector de la Faloise
Karl Harbacher ...
Francis - le coiffeur (as Arbacher)
Jacqueline Ford ...
Rose Mignon
Le jockey de 'Nana' (as Price)
Gresham ...
Le jockey de 'Lusignan'
Luc Dartagnan ...
Maréchal - le bookmaker (as Dartagnan)
Nita Romani ...


Based on the famous novel by Emile Zola. The vivacious and beautiful Nana seeks fame on the stages of Paris in the shows at the Théâtre des Variétés. (which will look familiar to lovers of "Children of Paradise"). When she bombs as an actress, Nana becomes a courtesan, using her allure and charisma more directly to entice and pleasure men. She is kept in a sumptuous fashion by a wealthy count, and several prominent and wealthy men find themselves unable to withstand her charms. In the novel, the theater manager describe Nana: "Nana has something else, dammit, and something that takes the place of everything else. I scented it out, and it smells damnably strong in her, or else I lost my sense of smell." But there's a pain and a pathos at the heart of Nana's situation, and it slowly makes its poisonous way into the lives of all in Nana's orbit. Written by Ann Walton Sieber

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Drama | Romance


Not Rated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

25 June 1926 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Nanà  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
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A solid and entertaining silent film by the father of French cinema, Jean Renoir…
20 June 2015 | by See all my reviews

"Nana" (1926) is the third film by the great Jean Renoir. I've been unable to find his first film, which he co-directed with another filmmaker, but having seen his second film and solo debut, "La fille de l'eau" (a.k.a. "Whirlpool of Fate"; 1925), I was a bit surprised by "Nana", for a few reasons.

First, there's the star of both films, Catherine Hessling. In "La fille de l'eau", she played an innocent young girl, and she did so about as well as could be expected, given how almost absurdly overdrawn her character was in terms of virtue and purity. In "Nana", suffice it to say, her role is a bit different. She plays a tart, a prostitute. Once again, her character is ridiculously exaggerated, caricatured to an absolutely laughable extent. Here, however, unlike in Renoir's last film, Hessling does nothing to help matters. Her acting in "Nana" is so over the top that it at times becomes a marked hindrance to the integrity of the film. I would expect this kind of performance in a Keystone comedy from 1914, maybe, but not from a Renoir film in the latter half of the '20s.

Furthermore, the narrative breaks down into tragic melodrama in the latter portion of the film, and any thematic substance from the first half of the film is ultimately diluted in the perceived necessities of plot and story. This is unfortunate, but not unexpected; it's common of so many silents from this era.

That, however, is about the extent of my criticism for the film. It's a good film, overall, or at least a solid one. In some ways it surpasses "La fille de l'eau", and in other ways it falls short of it. The narrative in "Nana" is stronger than its predecessor's: The characters are more complex and less archetypal, and the themes are more pronounced while they last. To venture further into the subjective, I'd say that "Nana" has higher entertainment value than Renoir's last film, and that it's more dramatically engaging.

On the other hand, there was an element of visual poetry in "La fille de l'eau" that is missing from "Nana". Perhaps it's the issue of color tinting, at least in part. I've always felt that color tinting degrades a film's artistic value. "La fille de l'eau" was not tinted, and it preserved a certain artistry in the film's aesthetic that the tinted images in "Nana" simply can not match. I will concede, though, that if Renoir is going to insist on color tinting, the tinting in "Nana" is handled well — a series of similarly toned warm tints, providing a more consistent visual mood than, for instance, the messy rainbow of colors from all parts of the visible spectrum in Fritz Lang's "The Spiders" films.

"La fille de l'eau" also featured impressive montage, and one wonders where the editing talents displayed in that film disappeared to for "Nana". That's not to say that "Nana" is poorly edited, but simply that it doesn't exhibit the noticeably skilled use of montage that we saw in the former film. Renoir is credited for the editing in "Nana", whereas I can't find a credit for the editing in "La fille de l'eau", so it's possible that it wasn't Renoir's editing talents that we saw in that film, although I'm still willing to guess that it was.

Finally, "La fille de l'eau" gets a nudge for a fantastic dream sequence that I'm sure anyone who saw the film will remember. But enough contrasting. There are certainly similarities as well. The most obvious place where the two films can be compared is in their social inclinations. Both films, and for that matter every Renoir film I've ever seen, feature a blending of characters from different social classes. "Boudu Saved From Drowning", "The Lower Depths", "Grand Illusion", "The Diary of a Chambermaid", "The Golden Coach" — Renoir loves to throw lower class characters and upper class characters into the same setting and see what comes of it. It's his way of exploring his humanist disposition. Other filmmakers have done it in their own way. Kurosawa liked to look to the lower classes alone to find the true nature of humanity. Visconti, though not exactly a humanist, liked to look largely to the upper classes to explore human nature. Renoir likes to look at both, together — the coexistence of the two in a particular setting — and he defines humanity through the shared qualities, as well as the conflicts, that arise under those conditions.

"Nana" is a very much a male film, in that, like Luis Buñuel, there is a focus on the power of the female, and the manner in which a woman can trigger a maelstrom of chaos in the lives of the men who fall at her feet, and who set aside everything — even that most precious social status and respectability — in order to attain the object of their passion. This theme has the potential to be feminist, of course, but not here. The film's sympathies are almost entirely with the despairing male characters, and the female tantalizer is depicted as an absolutely ridiculous human being (although she is ultimately afforded a small degree of humanity).

On a side note, there's a role in 'Nana" for Werner Krauss, the German actor who appeared in films like Wiene's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and Pabst's "The Joyless Street". He's good. In fact, excluding Catherine Hessling, the whole cast is pretty good.

The film is made by a fairly young and inexperienced Jean Renoir, and yet it is clearly the work of a professional. Renoir was not the master of the cinema that he would later become, but already he was a good filmmaker, and his talent for storytelling is evident even this early in his career.

RATING: 6.00 out of 10 stars

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